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'Yo Gabba Gabba!' -- parents will dig it too

August 20, 2007|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

A new Nickelodeon show "for young children ages 1 and up," "Yo Gabba Gabba!" begins in a perfectly white space. Into this glimpse of lost-horizon eternity walks a man in an orange track suit; he wears a fuzzy hat that resembles one of those electric shoe polishers you sometimes see in hotel corridors and a pair of big rectangular horn-rimmed spectacles, and he carries what looks like an old-style boom box. He is something the P-Funk Mothership might have set down.

He comes to a long table set with four contiguous dioramas, representing a variety of landscapes and seasons or "lands" -- spring meadow, summery desert, autumn forest, arctic winter -- a concept that seems as rooted in color composition as anything else. The boom box turns out to be a carrying case. Inside are five figurines: a tubular one-eyed red thing with bumps all over, a pink onion wearing a flower in her hair, a striped green furry thing, a blue cat with a dinosaur tail, and a yellow robot. The man in orange places them in the dioramas, sprinkles a little magic and they come to life.

"Can you help me? Can we dance? Let's do it! Break it down!" They get the party started. They throw their hands into the air like they just don't care.

I'm in.

The man is DJ Lance Rock (Lance Robertson) and the monsters are, in the order described above, Muno, Foofa ("pink flower bubble" is how her creators describe her, but she still looks like an onion to me), Brobee, Toodee; the robot is Plex. They are here to make you forget the Teletubbies (now celebrating 10 years in show business). But this is not the atmosphere of unruffled tranquillity that made the former show the morning-after chill of choice for fin de sièicle clubgoers; this is a jump-around show, from start to finish.

Beginning with the title itself, which references the Ramones and old school hip-hop, the audiovisual style is retro-forward, with the Wayback Machine set to somewhere around 1980 -- when the creators of "Yo Gabba Gabba!" were small themselves, the TR-808 and Intellivision ruled the Earth, and it was all Hey Ho, Let's Go and Hip Hop and You Don't Stop. Except, now it's "There's a party in my tummy / So yummy, so yummy" and "Clean it up, clean it up / Pick up the trash now." A photo-animated sequence in which food is arranged into numbers is vintage "Sesame Street." It's like the '90s never happened.

Co-created by musician and ex-kid actor Christian Jacobs -- known as the MC Bat Commander in his night job as lead singer of the costumed neo-new wave/ska/punk/synth-pop band the Aquabats! -- "Yo Gabba Gabba!" is full of positive thoughts and healthful messages: that carrots want to be eaten too, just like cheese, and that it's fun to brush your teeth. But the deeper point here, as I take it, is that you can grow up to find work that lets you continue to play with toys. (I'm not sure the kids will get this, but in a time-delayed way, they may.)

In many respects, the show is just another wave in the pool of artists, designers, animators and musicians in which the Aquabats! already swim. Friends and associates chip in and chime in with voice-overs, cartoons and guest shots.

The grooviness factor and adult appeal -- you do not need kids or to be a kid yourself to hang out here, although you will, of course, want to be careful whom you tell -- will be kept high by visitors such as Tony Hawk, Sugarland and the Shins. Biz Markie will give beat-box lessons. A cartoon on the theme of "Be Nice to Animals" has music by the Canadian pop band the Salteens ("We can share with them / Grow our hair with them"). Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh shows you how to draw a potato bug on a skateboard. Elijah Wood is beamed in to do the dance he calls "The Puppet Master": "Raise your knee / Raise your other knee / Raise your foot / Raise your other foot / Walk in a circle / Do the Puppet Master." This verse is repeated six times, so you will have plenty of time to learn it.

Of course, these particulars will not matter to the children of 2007, who do not wax nostalgic for Pitfall! or BurgerTime and don't know the Shins from Shinola or Frodo from Fritos. But the children of an earlier age would not have cared, or even known, that it was Grace Slick singing the numbers on "Sesame Street," although it mattered that it was. They just dug the colors and counted along.


'Yo Gabba Gabba!'

Where: Nickelodeon

When: 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. weekdays

Rating: TV-Y (appropriate for all children)

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